Team to put 15-0 mark on line vs. Rebels
Alta High volleyball team members shed some tears after last fall's loss to Wall Lake View-Auburn in a Class 1A Regional semifinal.
The Cyclones were the biggest surprise among Northwest Iowa's Class 1A teams last year. They finished the 2005 regular season 10-8, including an under .500 mark (3-4) in the Northwest Conference.
Alta came out of nowhere to win its district, reeling off post-season wins over Remsen-St. Mary's, Schaller-Crestland and Sentral-Fenton.
Though the loss to third-ranked WLVA ended the Cyclones' hopes for a state tourney berth, it served as a jumping off point for the current season.
"We just came into this season with the confidence we were a good team," Alta's senior middle hitter Dee Hinkeldey said Sunday night.
"We had high expectations at the start of practice in August," Alta volleyball coach Jeannie Henningsen said. "But we never expected we'd be undefeated at this point."
As of Monday of this week, Alta, 10th ranked in Class 1A, was 15-0 overall and at 6-0 in Northwest Conference play.
If the Cyclones get past Sioux Central Thursday in Alta, they'll finish the regular season unbeaten and win the Northwest Conference title outright. Alta has already clinched at least a share of the conference title.
"Sioux Central has a strong team; they're similar to us in a lot of ways," Henningsen said. "They have a lot of tough hitters and so do we."
A former Buena Vista University basketball All-American, Henningsen said she thinks no Alta volleyball team has ever finished the regular season undefeated.
"We've got a group of kids who are on the same page and get along with each other," Henningsen said. "We also have outstanding senior leadership.
"So far this season, we've just taken it one game at a time. Right now, we're focused on Sioux Central."
Thus far, the Cyclones have lost just six games out of 49. The two reasons for such dominance, players say, are experience and better passing and hitting."
"We worked a lot on passing earlier in the season," Hinkeldey said. "That's been a big improvement, and we've got two good setters (Megan Suhr, Bridget Murrillo), too.
"I think we have players who play well in the front row and in the back row," she added. "Overall, we're an athletic team."
Hinkeldey is one of four Alta hitters who can put the ball down and put it down hard. A 5-foot-7 senior, Hinkeldey is the tallest of the four, which also includes senior Jahde Hammer and sophomores Kelsie Peterson and Jessy Bibler.
Three of the four have double figures in kills. Peterson, at 5-foot-6 outside hitter, leads the Cyclones with 114 kills, an average of 2.3 kills per game.
The season's biggest surprise may be the emergence of senior Jahde Hammer as one of the top hitters in the conference. Thus far this season, the 5-foot-4 outside hitter has 108 kills.
"I think winning the district last year has helped everyone play with more confidence," she said.
Hammer said Sunday night. "Our passing is better and during any given match, we have at least two good hitters at the net."
Bibler, a 5-6 outside hitter, has 69 kills, and setter Megan Suhr has 27.
Suhr and Bridget Murillo, a 5-4 sophomore, have done a good job replacing first-team all-conference and all-district setter Emily Cameron, who graduated last spring.
Thus far this season, Suhr has 223 set assists, while Murillo has 67.
Defensively, a number of players have pitched in, making the Cyclones not only powerful offensively, but scrappy in the back row.
"We just have some great athletes on our team; we're very balanced," Henningsen said.
Libero player Amy Huseman, 5-6 senior, leads in digs with 89.
Hammer has 68 digs and Peterson 54. Hinkeldey has 37 blocks and Suhr 21.
Though Alta's players are concentrating on Sioux Central, Hinkeldey does say the Cyclones have the potential to go deep into tournaments, including a trip to Cedar Rapids and the state tournament.
"I think that could happen, but only if we keep playing well and take one game at a time like we have all season," she said.
Though Alta moved from 13th to 10th last week in the Iowa Girls Athletic Union 1A rankings last week, a potential state tourney bid has some formidable, and early, road blocks.
They'll open district play against Odebolt-Arthur Monday, Oct. 16 in Odebolt. The winner will most likely face a showdown with WLVA in a district final in Lake View. The Wolverines were ranked second in last week's IHSGAU ratings.